About 150 residents packed the Adams Street Community Center in Brownwood Monday night for a forum on whether wind turbine farms — and in particular, tax abatements that would attract wind farm owners — would be good or bad for Brown and Coleman counties.
The answer, argued the six-person that hosted the forum: they would be bad.
“When I first got into this, my first view of wind and solar was that it was a positive thing,” said May landowner Jeff Tucker, one of the six panelists. “I studied it. I became an academic about it, and the more I dug into it, wind, to me, became a bad economic choice. It does not make fiscal sense and common sense from my perspective as a small land owner.”
In addition to Tucker, panelists consisted of Bill Peacock and Cutter Gonzalez of the Texas Public Policy Foundation; Scott Killingsworth, who owns land in the Brookesmith area; and David Stewart and Teresa Stephens of Coleman County, who sell real estate including farm and ranch property.
Moderator and radio host J.R. Williams introduced the forum, noting that the issue initially was in Brown County about 10 years ago. “Fast forward about 10 years, and here we are,” Williams said.
The debate is not over what people choose to do with their own land, Williams said. “I’ve never heard that come up,” he said. “The question becomes about subsidies and abatements and these things that affect everybody.
“If there’s not subsidies and there’s not abatements and it’s your own land, I don’t think anyone’s ever raised ‘that’s a foul.’”
Killingsworth recalled the alarm he felt when he first learned that the wind turbine issue was returning to Brown County.
“This is a big issue for the county, for the landowners,” Killingsworth said. He said he met up with Tucker and Buddy Gieb, who owns land in the Bangs area, and the three of them “started talking and more landowners joined us” in opposition of wind farms.
Killingsworth said a company called Chermac Energy of Oklahoma has secured leases for about 4,500 acres in southern Brown County and the same amount of acres in Coleman County. Chermac will attempt to sell the leases to a wind farm company, Killingsworth said.
“They want to go from Brookesmith to Bangs, to Trickham and Santa Anna,” Killingsworth said.
At a meeting in Trickham last week, the Chermac CEO said the intent is to install a 200 megawatt wind farm that would require 25,000 to 35,000 acres, Killingsworth said. The turbines would be 570 feet to 590 feet tall, Killingsworth said.
Peacock, vice president of research for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the organization is a “think thank” that tries to bring “non-partisan research to folks in Austin and try to convince them that they need to improve our laws.”
The organization is guided by the principals of liberty, free enterprise and personal responsibility, Peacock said.
“Texas has the most competitive electricity marketplace in the U.S., and that’s a good thing,” Peacock said. “The problem is when you take in all these subsidies” at local, state and federal levels, he said.
“With all these subsidies involved, what happens is that wind just comes in and floods the system … with all of these subsidies, they can come in and still make a profit, and that has a real impact on the reliability of the electric grid,” Peacock said. “Plus, it means that when you’re paying for your electricity, you’re not just paying for it on your electric bill. You’re paying for it on federal income taxes, any state taxes you might pay if you’re a business and local property taxes.”
A wind farm company can finance about 60 percent of the project, Peacock said.
“Another really big challenge with the subsidies is the impact on people — the people who live near or around these wind turbines,” he said.
Peacock repeated Williams’ earlier statements, saying “nobody here’s saying what you can’t do with your own property. We’re big on not having the government tell us what we can do with our own property. … If it weren’t for these subsidies, we wouldn’t have these turbines everywhere. If they get these abatements, they’re coming. If they don’t get these abatements, they just pack up and go over to the next county. … That’s the core battle because they don’t get these abatements if county commissioners and school board members don’t vote for them.”
Other comments from panelists, as well as a video depicting comments from Comanche County residents, revolved around issues including noise from the turbines, ruined views on the landscape, bothersome lights at night, decreases in land values and what landowners give up when they sign leases.
“This lease is for 60 to 65 years,” Stephens said. “ … It’s not going to matter what you have to say or what you want any more. You’ve given your right up. If you are considering, I beg you to talk to an attorney.”
Stewart said, “when you sign that contract, you’ve basically taken your land off the market.”
Gonzales, an analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said it’s “hard to tell county commissioners or school districts ‘you’re going to make more money, but it’s a bad deal.’ That’s a hard case to make. What’s not readily apparent to these school districts and county commissioners courts is the cost at every other level, and the cost to their residents. There is a panoply of issues that you’re not taking into consideration.”